November 30, 2023

Pakistan Army’s Tightening Grip: Tough Times Ahead for its Democracy

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By: Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd), Editor, GSDN

Lieutenant General Munir Afsar: source Internet

In a move that could further spell the death-knell of democracy in Pakistan, a Serving General Officer of the Pakistan Army has been appointed as the chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) on October 02, 2023.

NADRA plays a pivotal role in the Pakistan administrative framework. It is solely responsible for maintaining the nation’s database including the citizens biometric and demographic information. The appointment of the NADRA chairman is a significant decision as it directly impacts the integrity and effectiveness of the organisation. In the recent years the appointment process of the NADRA chairman in Pakistan has garnered much media attention raising questions about the transparency, accountability and qualifications of the selected candidate.

Since quite some time now the appointment of the NADRA chairman has been besieged with immense controversies. These controversies revolve around three main critical issues. Firstly, that the process of selecting the NADRA chairman lacks total transparency and is susceptible to the political influence. Some of the earlier NAFRA chairmen have been made more on personal connections rather than on merit. Secondly, to be effective as the NADRA chairman, he should have requisite qualifications and experience as NADRA is a very complex organisation which is responsible for safeguarding sensitive citizen data. Thirdly, lot of political interference in NADRA’s affairs have been seen in the past. When the head of NADRA is perceived as being politically aligned, it can undermine the organization’s impartiality and raise doubts about the integrity of its functioning.

The previous chairman of Nadra was Tariq Malik who was appointed in June 2021 for a second term. Prior to this appointment he was serving at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Malik also had immense experience as he was among the 10 core members of the World Bank’s Technical Experts Group (TEG) which supported client countries with ID planning and implementation.

Since the appointment of Tariq Malik as chairman of NADRA in June 2021 was for a second time, he had been facing immense pressure from the Interior Minister of Pakistan to resign after reports emerged that some officials of NADRA had been involved in leaking the personal data of the previous Army chief General Qamar Bajwa.

Lieutenant General Munir Afsar who is serving three-star General Officer in the Pakistan Army was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in October 2022. It is for the first time in Pakistan’s history that a serving General Officer has been appointed the chairman of NADRA. The appointment of a serving General Officer as the NADRA chairman is yet another step in choking the democracy of Pakistan which for quite some time has come under the scanner of the international agencies.

Pakistan which for quite some time now has been seen internal disturbances leading to the arrest of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, is yet to see stability return. The dates for elections to Pakistani National Assembly have not yet been announced.

The Pakistan Army wields immense control over the Government of Pakistan and the bureaucrats. And now with its full control through a serving General Officer in NADRA, the entire data of the Pakistani citizens is now in the hands of the Pakistan Army. How this data of the Pakistani citizens is used/misused will be known in the times ahead but one thing is for sure that the democracy in Pakistan is further being choked by the powerful Pakistan Army which calls the shots in Pakistan.

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